Roundhouse Review

Once again Paul Bingley has written a cracking review for the blog, this time of the Roundhouse Electric Proms show.

The time had come. At seven o’clock the doors opened and hundreds of eager souls piled into the Roundhouse. A few of us streamed upstairs to Torquil’s Bar. Several people were already clustered around its doorway queuing for a drink. As we inched through, my eyes lit up. Inside and to the right were Jarvis Cocker and Steve Lamacq having a chinwag. Florence (minus the Machine) scampered past and lovingly hugged a bystander. In the background, one of The Magic Numbers smiled broadly at no-one in particular. Was this a dream or were we witnessing some kind of surreal Q magazine cover shoot?

It was neither. Just like us, they were all here to rock with Doves. It wouldn’t just be Doves, either. No, this time around the band would be joined onstage by the London Bulgarian Choir. An odd combination, yes, but this was the BBC Electric Proms. So here we were, 3,000 people convened together on day three, just 24 hours after a resounding performance by Dizzee Rascal and the day before Dame Shirley Bassey was due to clear her pipes. Thankfully it had been ages since Robbie Williams rolled off the stage.

My wife and I (together with the board’s very own Baldilocks) left the bar where Jarvis Cocker was now spinning 6Music’s wheels of steel, and made our way to the main space. We found ourselves a spot very close to the centre of the stage and just behind a really tall bloke. That’s the power of Doves –only they can pull you away from a sight like Jarvis Cocker DJing in a half-empty bar towards the back of someone’s head.

First onto the stage was a group of wrinkly pensioners led by a short bald man in a pink shirt. They immediately launched into something I recognised –‘Shot by Both Sides’. This was Magazine, purveyors of “genuine old world charm” as singer Howard Devoto eloquently put it.

After they left the stage having played a stonking set, the really tall bloke (clearly a Magazine fan) briefly moved away from the barrier. I made a beeline, dragging my wife with me. Graciously he allowed us to remain there on the proviso that we look after his jacket which he’d draped over the barrier. If the truth be known, I would have taken the man out to dinner had he asked. That was how good our position was –just left of Jimi’s mic stand and slap bang in the front row.

It was all shaping up to be so much more than your average gig. The Roundhouse is mightily impressive –big, round and musically historic. There were hulking cameras positioned in a variety of locations, bright searching spotlights bathing the stage and a certain Edith Bowman high on a balcony facing a dazzling white light and chewing on a microphone. It was obvious that the BBC was in town and it was all becoming rather exciting.

In the darkness at the rear of the stage, the choir (resplendent in their Bulgarian costumes) quietly climbed onto a semi-circular raised platform and waited. Then the band arrived. ‘Roundhouse man,” Jez remarked, “top.” Enough said. Opening with ‘Snowden’ (a break from the usual ‘Jetstream’), they moved onto a flawless ‘Winter Hill’ before Jimi introduced the choir and then announced ‘Firesuite’. Goosebumps at the ready…

For those of us overly familiar with this song’s arrangement, to hear it played with such a radically different vocal accompaniment (and in such a setting) was breathtaking and utterly beguiling. The thing that really captivated me, though, were the smiles of the choir. This was how music really should besimply making people happy.

Those watching seemed slightly more restrained. I could only surmise that it was because of the cameras (and the threat that anything they did shout would be taken down and recorded for posterity). It didn’t stop one woman, though.Hello mum!” she screamed during one particularly quiet moment. “Spaceface Jimi!” I shouted in retaliation. Needless to say my request fell on deaf ears. Judging by the crowd, tonight wasn’t going to be the night for that one.

The old favourites were there, though. ‘10:03′, ‘Pounding’ and ‘Black and White Town’ to name but three. Even the spurned ‘Catch the Sun’ made a spectacular return. But it was the reappearance of ‘The Storm’ which surprised me most. It lent itself perfectly to a choir and I thought it was performed beautifully, especially by Jez, whose voice was pitch-perfect throughout.

None of the band, it must be said, put a foot (or note) wrong. Jimi, as ever, performed brilliantly. Andy continues to provide the perfect beat whatever the song, and Martin Rebelski quietly brings out the atmospherics. But it was the addition of the choir that offered something completely different.

The backing vocals on ‘Kingdom of Rust’ were haunting and really complimented the sweeping beauty of the song. ‘The Last Broadcast’ sounded even more gorgeous when accompanied by so many voices. In effect, the choir sprinkled the music with some ethereal moments –none more so than during ‘Birds Flew Backwards’.

In all honesty I’ve never been a big fan of the song. It’s nice, but that’s about it. But when you mix in a folk choir and some Indian instruments, then it becomes something else altogether –something beautiful. I don’t mind admitting that I was moved to tears.

Dignity was briefly restored with ‘The Cedar Room’. Thanks again to the choir, though, it was the first time I’d ever found myself clapping along to its beat. There’s only one word for the performance of this song at that moment –phenomenal.

It was left to crowd favourite ‘There Goes the Fear’ to bring down the curtain on an unforgettable evening. But what should have been your regular run-of-the-mill set closer will now go down in history as the moment that I was caught on national TV bopping like an epileptic cat. That’ll teach me for standing so close to Doves.

Thanks Paul! Fanatasic stuff again.

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